Good books about Hong Kong

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What books would you recommend for someone visiting Hong Kong? Here are a few I've enjoyed:

For a holiday read with a Hong Kong theme, James Clavell's 'Tai-Pan' and 'Noble House' will keep you going through the long flight, and throw in plenty of info about local history and customs at the same time. Richard Mason's 'The World of Suzie Wong' is another fictional story, that does a good job of showing how different expat life was just 50 years ago.

Martin Booth's 'Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood' is set in about the same time as the Suzie Wong story, and also touches on many of the same issues of Chinese - Western contact in the 1950's. This is not fiction though, as these are Booth's memories of his time in Hong Kong as a young boy.

Finally, if you want a more factual introduction to Hong Kong, Frank Welsh's 'A history of Hong Kong' is a thorough but readable work.

Any other suggestions, especially for good tourist guidebooks?

MrB

Books about HK

"Tai Pan" & "Noble House"?

I guess they were fun reads, when I was in my teens. But, then I read them again in my 20s and was struck by how unattractive all the characters were: anger, envy, greed, lust, & pride. The only missing out of the Big 7 were gluttony & sloth ;). And the *leaden* dialogue.

I also found that when Clavell did "p.o.v" of his characters (especially women characters) they were very unrealistic.

Good points
* Description of the bank run in Mong Kok
* Fire on the floating restauarant in Aberdeen
* Some decsription of water shortage
* My introduction to the concept of "f.u." money

If you want a pot-boiler, I would recommend Robert Elegant's "Dynasty" instead.

These books I recommend & put out for my visitors.

1) The World of Lily Wong, etc. - I have a complete set of the published comics - very enjoyable for my visitors (although out-of-date now)

Non-fiction:

Hong Kong / by Jan Morris

Hong Kong: the Colony that Never Was / by Alan Birch [nice pictures]

Post Impressions/ by the SCMP [lots of nice photos covering HK from 1903 to 2003)

Hong Kong / The Lonely Planet (so they can get a handle on all the different areas and explore on their own).

Fiction:
Hiroshima Joe / by Martin Booth
The Iron Tree / by Martin Booth

- These books are both set in HK in the 1950s. I read Booth's memoir, and found that these books were more evocative. They spoiled me for his memoir.

Hiroshima Joe was a British officer who survives the fall of HK and is a POW. After working on Kai Tak, he is sent to a POW camp in Japan, outside Hiroshima. It shows him and HK 1940- ~1953.

The Iron Tree is told from the POV of an ex-priest who survived the Boxer Rebellion in China, lost his faith (or most of it) and is now an old man living in Jordan/Yau Ma Tei, giving Cantonese lessons to a foreign kid and doing voice overs.

THE LAMEST HONG KONG BOOK
I spoke well of "Dynasty" above. It was a fun take on the Ho-Tung family, but he also wrote one of the worst things I eve read.
"Last Year in Hong Kong" - avoid at all cost.

The Chameleon Press also publishes books by HK people about HK and Asia.

Good list

Thanks skmama, I hoped you'd have something to say on the matter! Post Impressions is one I've got, and definitely deserves to be on the list. Most of the others I hadn't read - a trip to the library is in order.

Regards, MrB

More books about HK

Hi Mr. B,

Here's some more books - memoirs, etc.

1) Feeling the Stones: remininscences by David Akers Jones (Hong Kong: HKU Press, 2004)

2) The Li Dynasty: Hong Kong Aristocrats / by Frank Ching. (Hong Kong:Oxford U Press, 1999)

3) Shouting at the Mountain: A Hong Kong Story of Love and Commitment / by Elsie and Andrew Tu ( Hong Kong: Cameleon Press, 2004).
- Elsie & Andrew were both social activists in the 1960s-present. Elsie is now rather more pro-Beijing & anti-pan-democrat than one would expect her story.

Review here: http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/arb/article.php?article=478

4) Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire / Jean Gittins (Hong Kong: HKU Press, 1982)
- memoir of being a daughter of Sir Ho Tung & growing up in HK in the 1920-30's and surviving the Stanley Internment camp.

Novels:

1) An Insular Possession / by Timothy Mo (London: Chatto & Windus, 1986)
- novel set in 1840s & about the 1st Opium war. The writing style fits the topic.

2) The Monkey King / Timothy Mo (Boston: Faber & Faber 1988, c. 1978)
- novel set in 1950's Hong Kong; main character, Wallace, is Mecanese and marries into the family of an incredibly stingy patriarch in Hong Kong. Wallace is a bit like Sun Wu Kong and the novel is funny and overblown and in some ways accurate.

3) White Ghost Girls / Kate Greenway (New York: Black Cat, 2006)
- I haven't read this one yet, but a friend said that she liked it. Two western girls living in HK in 1967 while their dad is a photo-journalist in Vietnam.

King Hui: The man who owned all the opium in Hong Kong

I can thoroughly recommend this from Blacksmith Books. It's the life story of Peter Hui (wow, what a life!) told in a serious of excellent anecdotes.

Very informative, funny and insightful (especially if you are non-Chinese) and even some of the background on some of the more powerful people (i.e. Tai pans) in HK today before they became so well known and rich. Many anecdotes revolve around specific places, buildings and streets, so its easy to relate to where they were taking place.

More books about HK

Reader IDJ suggests:

Consider for your readers the trilogy, Ancestral Images, More Ancestral Images and Ancestral Images Again. All hardback slim volumes by Dr Hugh Baker and published by the SCMP in 1979, 1980 & 1981. They are based on his articles that appeared in the SCMP between 1977 and 1979, covering some of the strange things that puzzle gwailos in HK and explain oddities and local customs seen in the NT in the 1970s, although the environment there has changed somewhat since then.

Also Hong Kong Ways & Byways-A miscellany of trivia by Eric Cumine published by Belongers’ Publications Ltd in 1981. Eric Cumine was a well-known architect who designed many building in HK including the original Harbour City complex in Canton Road.

No doubt all these volumes are still be available in the public libraries.

Some more writing about HK

Hi Mr B,

Here are a few more suggestions, hopefully at least some of them are still available:

Hong Kong: A Guide to Recent Architecture (Juanita Cheung and Andrew Yeoh, Ellipsis 1998) It documents an eclectic collection of landmarks all over HK (from Ocean Park to the HSBC building to some LKF restaurants to the toilets at Victoria Park).  Aside from discussing their architectural merits, the writeups include background history to each landmark.  Most of them are accessible to the public and their addresses and their nearest MTR stations are listed.  It is in a small pocket-sized format so makes a good fun guidebook.

Outposts (Simon Winchester, Penguin 2003) This book contains a chapter on Hong Kong. It was written originally in 1985, after Simon Winchester decided to set forth and visit the far-flung remnants of the British Empire.

Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics (P. J. O'Rourke, Picador 1998) P J O'Rourke is a hilarious political satirist.  This book is his version of Economics for Dummies.  His chapter on Hong Kong is titled "how to make everything from nothing" (in contrast with Tanzania, "how to make nothing from everything"; and Shanghai, "how to have the worst of both worlds").

Hong Kong on a Plate: A Culinary Journey with Recipe from Some of the World's Best Restaurants (Frances Bartlett and Ivan Lai, Roundhouse Publications (Asia) 1997)  What better way to learn about HK than through its food?

Hong Kong's Wild Places: An Environmental Exploration (Edward Stokes, Oxford University Press 1995) It's a coffee table book, with beautiful photos of amazing green landscapes!  It is about HK's natural environment and it really brings home the statistic about how only 10% of Hong Kong is built upon.  An unusual perspective about HK.

Books

Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse has a bit about their lives in HK in a very hard scrabble time.  It puts a lot in perspective (and in this case the Chinese perspective)

Books about Hong Kong November-December 1941

There are a few books covering the November-December 1941 period before the fall of Hong Kong written by civilians who where there. Two are by American female journalists who appear to have been well connected and quote many names including other journalists, but from a quick visual scan of the texts Harrison Forman is not among them. The Gwen Dew book is particularly full of the names of people she came across.

Prisoner of the Japs by Gwen Dew published in 1943

Hong Kong Holiday by Emily Hahn published in 1946

I escaped from Hong Kong by J.H. Marsman published in 1942

Marsman headed a construction company based in Manila. His company had the contract to build the air raid shelters in Hong Kong. He quotes 17 miles of them and was in the colony to inspect work in progress on them.

Each of the above persons was interned by the Japanese but as the females were American, they were eventually repatriated on the Swedish ship 'Gripsholm'

Marsman as his book title suggests escaped overland into China. He was Dutch.

Can anyone attest to Peter Hui's story?

Thank you Phil for the recommendation. The value of the book lies not in the writing but the history of HK through Peter's memories. It should read like a Who's who from the 30's to the 60's - that is if you know the names of these people. While the names all sound nicely Cantonese, I could only successfully googled 2 names - Henry Fok and Tang Shiu Kin. Yes I got the Kotewalls as well.  On Pg 61, the Yue Kee Club on Wellington Street was mentioned and I wonder if that has anything to do with the now hip Kee Club on Wellingtion Street? Another chapter was devoted to an attack at a party in a Blue Pool Road villa (p210) during the Battle of Hong Kong. I try to imagine where this walled villa stood or where Shan Kwong Hotel was and Phoenix Terrace where he lived (no such address in Happy Valley) ... The author leaves it to the reader whether to believe in Hui's story and I was left largely unsatisfied, wanting more. Nonetheless the book conveys the ambience of life during the war and post war - what struck me was the rampant corruption in the police force then. I salute those who managed to turn HK around into a city committed to transparency and rule of law.

'King Hui' sample

You can get an idea of the book from this sample.

Some of the comments that Peter Hui makes are hard to believe, eg:

However, the Japanese were not so very bad to Hong Kong people during the war. I saw some torture. There was some abuse, some cruelty. But overall I can’t say that it was terrible oppression.

That doesn't match up well with other reports from the time. But he lived unusually well during the war years, and maybe he really was removed from other peoples' hardships? Or had he tailored his memories over the years, to make his own cooperation with the Japanese more acceptable?

It's not always clear where the boundary between fact & fiction is, but it's certainly an interesting read.

Paper Lanterns

Set in the Hong Kong Island of Lamma, Paper Lanterns by Christine Coleman depicts the island really well and would be a good holiday read.

About Tang Shiu-kin in the book "King Hui"

According to one of your readers - Sophia's review, beginning on p. 210 of the "King Hui" there was a chapter on the Japanese Invasion of Hong Kong in Dec. 1941. Specifically, there was a reference to the Japanese attack on Tang Shiu-kin's villa at Blue Pool Road. I'm very interested in what Peter Hui had to say about that tragedy because my father, two of my uncles, and one cousin were killed on Dec. 24, 1941 while my family was seeking refuge at Tang Shiu-kin's residence. One of my cousins now 80 yrs old and who is the daughter of my uncle, Mr. Lam Ming-fan, a co-founder of the Kowloon Motor Bus company, still has a very vivid recollection of what happened.

Would Sophia or the author of the book be so kind as to give a brief descripton of Peter Hui's account of that incident?

The favor of a reply is much appreciated.

Sincerely,

Donald Lam

re: About Tang Shiu-kin in the book "King Hui"

Dear Donald,

You can read that chapter of the book online - please click here.

Obviously it's a very personal story, but if you're willing to share your views on the accuracy of that chapter, it will be very interesting to hear.

Regards, MrB

re: About Tang Shiu-kin in the book "King Hui"

Dear Mr. B,


Thank you very much for your prompt response and offer to view the specific chapter online. Since then I had bought the book from Amazon.com. Via communication with my former high school principal and history teacher, Mr. Arthur Hinton, came an incredible surprise! Not only had he read Jonathan's manuscript, but he also knew him as the eldest son of my former math teacher Mr. Terry Chamberlain. Mr. Hinton had kindly asked Jonathan to get in touch with me and now we have started an ongoing email communication.


My cousin Kwok-tak is writing a letter detailing the tragic event at Blue Pool Road. It will be written in Chinese but I will scan the original and send a translated copy to Jonathan after I receive the letter.


Thanks again for your interest in my family's history.


Sincerely,


Donald Lam


donlam88@gmail.com